Rick Perry may be under fire for his old campground’s racist name, but as even his toughest opponents admit, the Texas governor has virtually no history of racist rhetoric in his past either personally or politically.
The Texas Tribune talked to a number of Perry’s Democratic rivals and found a strong consensus that, whatever their problems with Perry are, racism is not one of them.
“He appointed a black man chief justice of the state Supreme Court, for crying out loud, one of the many high-profile positions he’s given to minorities during his time as governor,” Jason Stanford, a Democratic opposition researcher who is writing a book on Perry, wrote in a blog post. “If he were an n-bomb dropping cracker, we’d all know.”
A number of conservative commentators have defended Perry by likening the “Niggerhead” story to George Allen’s “macaca moment,” which they have mythologized as some kind of example of anti-racism gone amok. But there’s a huge difference between the two stories: Allen’s slur against an Indian-American volunteer for his opponent didn’t happen in isolation. In fact, the perception that Allen was racist was already seen as one of his top political vulnerabilities even before the “macaca” moment even happened. The Virginia Senator had a lengthy history of problems that included a strange obsession with the confederate flag, made even more grotesque by the fact he was raised in California. And after he made the “macaca” remark, things only got worse when the topic turned to his own Jewish heritage.
Allen, who is running again for Senate, has since apologized for both those remarks. But the reason they cost him that seat in the first place is that they fit into a clear narrative: Allen’s seemingly pathological habit of racial insensitivity. No such narrative exists for Perry and for all the smoke around the news that Rick Perry leased a campground popularly known as “Niggerhead,” it mostly boils down to a debate over when and how effectively Perry painted over a vicious slur attached to his property that he had nothing to do with coining.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.